Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Iberico and Consumer Perceptions

It is very interesting to see how consumers respond to Iberico.

In this article, you've got someone comparing the Italian offerings to the Iberico. The assessment always goes the same: Italian < Iberico:

I taste my way up the scale. The prosciuttos are delicious, but the darker serrano is gamier, more complex. The iberico cuts, though, with their deep, rich, nutty, aromatic flavor that resonates in the mouth, make me forget the hams that came before. The glistening wine-red bellota slices are edged with fat the color of old ivory; the fat — more prominent in the paleta — seems to melt on the tongue. After I swallow, the flavor hums in my mouth for minutes.

So, is this ham that much better than other hams? Yes. Even the less expensive regular iberico, at $99.99 a pound, is light-years above its Spanish and Italian cousins. Indeed, the much-anticipated arrival of the bellota iberico has one happy side effect for me: It makes me feel less guilty about splurging on the regular iberico — after all, it’s almost a bargain, right?

If I was an Italian producer (or just an Italian chauvinist), I'd be cringing. With the introduction of Iberico, foodies will be making these comparisons. The Italian stuff will always come up short, because genetics are the limiting factor.

For reasons I've already mentioned, the Italians can't easily increase the quality of their products. It will be very interesting to see what, if anything, they do to respond to the challenge. E.g. are the Italians going to go back to raising lard-type hogs?

In the long-term, I'm wondering if the Italian brand is going to take a hit.

In the meat processing world, you've got plenty of people making cured products. Some of them are ethnic Italians, some are not - but most of them have chosen to brand their company Italian - by using the Italian language, Italian colors, and making products with Italian names (whether or not those products are like what you actually purchase anywhere in Italy).

In the meat world, "Italian" is codeword for "we don't suck," just as "Northern Italian restaurant" means "we serve fancy Italian food without a red-checker tablecloth." This explains why a "Northern Italian" restaurant serves food that you might not find in Tuscany, Trento, Friuli, etc. The point isn't to accurately duplicate the cuisine of a particular region (which is probably impossible due to the lack of ingredients), but to convince people to open their wallets.

So it will be interesting to see what happens when future entrepreneurs start small meat-curing operations. Will they be calling them things like "La Querica" ("The Oak")and "Boccolone"? Or will they give them Spanish names like "El Roble" ("The Oak")? Or will any of the "Italian" companies rebrand as Spanish?

I don't mean any disrespect to La Querica or Boccolone. I'm merely citing them as examples of smaller, newer meat-curing operations that have chosen to brand their company and products Italian.

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